Home » 6 Books You Should Read Before Your Next Disney Vacation

    6 Books You Should Read Before Your Next Disney Vacation

    Huckleberry Finn

    Want to really get the most out of your next Walt Disney World visit?  Read a book (or two or three)!

    Walt Disney’s vision for Walt Disney World – and particularly the Magic Kingdom – was built to a large degree around books.  Because Disney grew up in the early part of the 20th century, his favorites were actually written more than 100 years ago (some more than 200 years ago!)  – but their influence is still felt all across his parks.  Of course, Disney did make a lot of movies based on his favorite books, but not even Disney animation can provide the details and flavor of the originals. 

    Once the Walt Disney World parks were created, new books were written to describe and explain how the concepts were developed and how the world was built.  Not every book is equal, of course – tour guides are just tour guides – but there are a few that are really worth noting.  Even if you’re not much of a reader, you’ll be surprised how much even a chapter or two can add to your appreciation of all things Disney.

    So – which books should you pick up first?  Here’s a list of my top six:

    1 and 2: Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. 

    Huckleberry Finn

    In many ways, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain to his fans) invented the popular vision of the American west.  Much of Pioneer land , all of Tom Sawyer Island (including the raft ride), the Liberty Belle boat ride (and, at Disneyland, the Mark Twain Riverboat ride) are built around these incredibly influential novels.  So, too, is most of the narrative and scenery you experience as you take the steam train around the Magic Kingdom.  You’ll also find bits and pieces of the Mark Twain version of America’s past at Fort Wilderness – the ranch, Trail’s End restaurant, architecture and costuming all have a distinct Twain flavor.

    3. Tales from Uncle Remus.  

    Illustration from Uncle RemusBack in Mark Twain’s day, a man named Joel Chandler Harris collected folktales told by African Americans of the deep south, and put them together into a book called Uncle Remus.  These stories were written in a dialect that was supposed to represent the language of slaves Harris interviewed – but which was, in fact, an invention of Harris’s.  The tone and style of the stories was similar to that of Aesop’s Fables.  Tricksters such as B’rer Rabbit teach “bad” animals lessons in behavior through stories such as “The Tar Baby.”

    Disney made a movie, Song of the South, based on the Uncle Remus Stories. The characters you see and hear as you journey through Splash Mountain are based on those characters, and the Bear Jamboree attraction is flavored by the Uncle Remus dialect and storytelling tradition.

    But while you can still buy and read the Uncle Remus stories, it’s very tough to get your hands on a copy of Song of the South.  That’s because the depiction of African Americans in Song of the South, while typical for its day, are now considered to be racist and inappropriate.  You can see clips, but don’t bother trying to buy a new DVD; they’re no longer available.

    4. The Swiss Family Robinson

    Swiss Family RobinsonSure, I’m a Disney fan and sure, I enjoyed the Disney movie version of the Swiss Family Robinson.  But really – tigers?  I don’t think so.  The book The Swiss Family Robinson is a classic, written by Johann Wyss in 1812.  Like the incredible Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse attraction in Adventureland, it is loaded with details – and really intriguing (if somewhat unrealistic) descriptions of how a family could actually survive on an uncharted island.  It’s also a terrific way to get into the spirit not only of the actual attraction, but also of Adventureland as a whole.  It’s all about ordinary people like you and me who take a risk and wind up living a completely unexpected life.

    5. Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales

    Hans Christian Andersen

    Where did the story of “The Little Mermaid” come from?  How about the story of “The Snow Queen,” on which Frozen is based?  Both were penned by Hans Christian Andersen, the Danish cobbler who became an international legend.  Of course the Disney versions of these tales are lovely, but they’re quite different from the originals.  What kinds of changes did Disney make?  How do you feel about them?  Reading the originals will give you a whole new perspective on the stories, characters, “sidekicks,” visuals, and rides.

    6. Tales from Grimm

    Tales From Grimm

     Snow White, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, and several other classic Disney rides and movies are based on Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Grimm is actually the name of a set of brothers, Jacob and Wilhelm, who collected and published dozens of classic folktales in the year 1812.  Not only are Disney movies and rides built around many of these stories, but so, too, are the creatures, clothing, and architecture of Fantasyland.  Why are princesses so helpless, princes so clueless, and witches so jealous?  It’s all in this handy guide to the world of traditional European folk tales.